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Post-Capitalist, Pre-(Something?)

Are you ready for a Post Capitalist world? Paul Mason, an economist and columnist for the Guardian, has outlined what that might mean in his book Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. The premise of this provocative subject is simply that information technology has a tendency to commoditize everything in our lives and ultimately push the value to zero, rendering concepts of money and markets as we understand them today utterly useless.

No one actually lives in a post-anything world, so the question becomes less about capitalism and more about what might come afterward. Financial writers, far from dismissal of the potential downfall of their trade, are actually quite excited by the concept of a new world where the old rules do not apply. The traditional left, steeped in a quasi-Marxist dialectic, are far more unsure.

That’s what makes this concept exciting.

One Big Marketplace

One Big Marketplace

Longtime readers know that Barataria has always referred to native social, political, and economic arrangement of the US as “Marketist”, which is to say that money itself does not make the rules as much as the ideal of a free market with equal access open to everyone. The guiding principle has always been an Economy of People, which is to say that this odd thing called “money” doesn’t define our organization as much as anyone might expect.

Everything in this world is defined by a certain level of scarcity, which is to say that there is not enough of whatever is valued to go around to everyone. Money is simply a tool for organizing and keeping score in this arrangement, at least to those who have reached the Middle Class and not constrained by day to day survival.

Not everyone can do this.

Not everyone can do this.

Mason argues well that as we move to a more software based world of easily duplicated and shared information the concepts of scarcity simply do not rule us. Corporations that manufacture or distribute physical goods are themselves transformed not by throwing more money into their problems but by better information and new ways of organizing themselves.

As our lives are more and more defined by abundance the concept of “capital” itself has to be redefined.

Consider, for example, the zero and even negative interest rates available today. You need capital to get something going? The time value has slipped ever since the 1980s with more and more floating around every day. You can fund many projects with a kickstarter grant if you want, or beg for donations for your work with PayPal (Hint! Hint!)

Effective yield of the 10 year Treasury Bill over time, a benchmark for real interest rates.  It keeps dropping.

Effective yield of the 10 year Treasury Bill over time, a benchmark for real interest rates. It keeps dropping.

Even physical goods themselves are defined less by what is in them and more by their utility, the catalog of features built in. New technologies make new things cost less and less all the time. There is little to no time value to money.

An economy based on software is an economy with less need for capital and more need for brains.

An economy based on software is an economy with less need for capital and more need for brains.

Where the right has lost its raison d’etre through the decline in value of supply-side thinking, the idea that a supply of capital is what creates jobs and real wealth, it is the left which is most adrift. Solidarity and sharing of resources no longer are necessary in a world defined by this abundance, and the role of government necessarily has to shift dramatically. “Progressives” of today are the ones called on to change the most, away from reactionary opposition to increasingly socially defined conservatism towards an active definition of this new world. It takes a lot of imagination, which is to say it takes a lot of leadership.

No one lives in a post-anything world. We are living in a world which is pre-something which we simply don’t have the words to define yet. Talking it through so we can digest what is before us is nearly impossible – and yet essential.

The fuure has to have room for everyone, 'cuz we're all going there.

The fuure has to have room for everyone, ‘cuz we’re all going there.

Can we really call the world we live in Post-Capitalist? To the extent that more and more people are living in a world of abundance, the answer is yes. This is certainly not true for everyone and the fruits of this world are still far from being shared in a reasonable or equitable way. There is a lot of work to be done before we can claim there is a genuine political or social system which makes any sense to the people that live within it.

What matters is that we are developing the language necessary to digest the changes around us and make them work for us all. Mason’s work is a great start, but it is only a start.

Before we can genuinely live in a world of abundance nearly everything will have to change. That’s not going to happen immediately, but the sooner it starts the sooner we will be able to define the world we’re all going to be living in together.

16 thoughts on “Post-Capitalist, Pre-(Something?)

  1. I think “capitalism” means a lot of different things to different people. Some think its good, some think its bad, but I doubt that they think about the same things when they come to those conclusions.
    Also, regarding your Progressive Agenda from Robert Reich isn’t a lot of that more or less left behind if what you say here is true?

    • First point – excellent! What really is this thing called “capitalism”? Is it a system of exploitation or a natural way to maintain property and encourage work? I think it’s just a a way of keeping track of resources, which is a neutral view overall.
      On the last point with Reich – this is so excellent I have to think about it some. You are right that there are some things in his agenda that are a bit dated feeling if you think about it from this perspective, but why? What is the alternative? Would action today in some form inhibit the changes we want to occur? I’ll consider that, thank you!

  2. “An economy based on software is an economy with less need for capital and more need for brains.” Are human beings not capital? We are sometimes, and that may be important in this new world order that could be emerging. Perhaps once we have printers that can produce all of the products that our hearts desire, the only valuable commodity, and capital, would be that of human intellect. Very interesting stuff, thanks for sharing.

    • As we define it, humans are not capital per se. We have a relationship between capital, labor, land, and thought to add the latter driver of technology to the Marxist way of looking at things.
      And yes, that part is more and more valuable all the time. Capital money is cheaper, land is being used more wisely, and labor is being done by machines. It’s the mind that is the only scarce resource.
      I’ll think that line of reasoning through some more. A very excellent point!

      One thing to add – you guys challenge me so wonderfully! This blog would be nothing without you!

  3. We need a basic economy.

    Received on October 16, /942
    I am glad to inform you, in response to your request, that the items involved can be made available for shipment as follows:
    Wheat; two million short tons during the remainder of the protocol year” at approximately equal monthly rates.
    Trucks; 8,000 to 10,000 per month.
    Explosives; 4,000 short tons in November and 5,000 tons per month thereafter.
    Meat; 15,000 tons per month.
    Canned Meat; 10,000 tons per month.
    Lard; 12,000 tons per month.
    Soap Stock; 5,000 tons per month.
    Vegetable Oil; 10,000 tons per month.
    I will advise you at an early date of the aluminum shipments which I am still exploring.
    I have given orders that no effort be spared to keep our routes fully supplied with ships and cargo in conformity with your desires as to priorities on our commitments to you.

    • There will always be that basic economy. The idea that people will stop working for money, which BTW is inherent in Star Trek among other Sci-Fi works, has a real flaw in it that way. But beyond the basic economy, what is there? I don’t know, honestly.
      Why would people work if not for money?

  4. I think there’s a lot missing here. I’m not seeing anything I can follow. If there’s no money why will people work? Where will they get whatever they need to pay rent? Why would anyone do anything?
    Help me out here ….

    • I read your comment and accidentally responded to it above! I tend to read all the comments before I respond to see where the discussion is going.

      This is a serious problem with this line of thinking, yes. We don’t have a way of organizing the world to produce basic things that we need to survive. That is the flaw here.

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  7. http://blogs.ft.com/gavyndavies/2015/07/29/what-the-leaked-fed-forecasts-tell-us/

    The federal reserve does not have any more leeway to fumble.

    September and October and November are rough times for the stock market and we are heading into an election year. The economic outlook is precarious.

    Some people have said 2017 is when we all get happy. This is hubris.

    Too many young people can not find jobs.

    If President Obama were smart he would propose adjustments to Social Security that give young people hope. He is smart but not wise.

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